Alan Shepard, Jr. was born on November 18, 1923 in East Derry, New Hampshire. He was the second person and the first American in space. He later commanded the Apollo 14 mission, and was the fifth person to walk on the moon. In 1959, Shepard was one of 110 military test pilots invited by the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration to volunteer for the first manned space flight program. Following a gruelling series of tests, Shepard became one of the original group of seven Mercury astronauts.
In January, 1961 Shepard was chosen for the first American manned mission into space. Although the flight was originally scheduled to take place in October 1960, delays caused by unplanned preparatory work meant that this was postponed several times, initially to March 6, 1961 and finally to May, 1961. On April 12, 1961, Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had become the first person to orbit the Earth.
Alan Shepard in Freedom 7 capsule before launchOn May 5, 1961, Shepard piloted the Freedom 7 mission and became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space. He was launched by a Redstone rocket, and unlike Gagarin's one-hour orbital flight, Shepard stayed on a ballistic trajectory suborbital flight—a flight which carried him to an altitude of 116 statute miles and to a landing point 302 statute miles down the Atlantic Missile Range. Unlike Gagarin, whose flight was strictly automatic, Shepard had some control of Freedom 7, spacecraft attitude in particular. The launch, return from space and subsequent collection by helicopter were seen live on television by millions.
On his successful return to Earth, Shepard was celebrated as a national hero, honored with parades in Washington, New York and Los Angeles and meeting President John F. Kennedy.
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